When my local municipal alliance offered a free presentation entitled "Get Out Of My Life But First Will You Drive Me And Cheryl To The Mall?" which the flyer also billed as "The Road Map For The Rocky Road Of Teenage Life" I jumped at the chance to go. See, lately my conversations with The Teen have consisted of me harping on him to get off the computer and admonitions to "please stop treating your sister like a rag doll." I definitely needed some help talking to my teen.
|My teen who is making my life a bit rocky these days.|
The presentation was given by Dr. Anthony Wolf who wrote the "Get Out Of My Life" book and is a famous author and clinical psychologist, blah, blah, blah. As it turns out, he's also a wonderfully engaging speaker who, in the course of the evening, illustrated his points with stories about typical teens. I swear that one of them described, almost verbatim, an argument we'd had with The Boy just the previous night. Here are my notes from Dr. Wolf's presentation:
I. You cannot understand how difficult it is to parent a teen until you are actually in the situation where you are parenting a teen. You just can't anticipate what it's like. They wear you down and even though you set limits, you will probably wind up with a different set of limits just because they've pushed you farther than you thought you'd go. To clarify, you may draw the line in the sand one place and one day you look down and you're astonished to see that the line is actually a bit further than you'd originally intended.
II. Parenting today requires more skill because fear is not a weapon anymore. Parenting is historically different than ever before. In previous generations, hitting kids kept them fearful of their parents. Thanks to a wonderful revolution in child rearing practices, we now understand that this is unacceptable, unhealthy and perpetuates the cycle of physical abuse. So kids today know there is a line that parents will not cross and they are not afraid of their parents. And how do children who are not afraid of parents behave? They argue, ask why, talk back, etc.
III. We all have two modes of operation.
A. Baby Self - When we are at home, we regress into an immature state in which we unwind, relax, want our needs met, and tolerate zero stress. In this mode, we have no patience and if we don't feel like doing something, we just don't do it. We can be bratty. Our Baby Self is important because it enables us to get the nurturing we need. Because of this, we are very protective of this Baby Self. When Baby Self does not get it's way, it will carry on and on in its frustrated state. It cannot move on or let go and, more than anything else, does not want to change.
B. Mature Self - This is the state when we are outside our homes, in the professional, social, or school world. Our Mature Self is able to delay gratification, has self-control, is patient, etc. This is the self your child's teacher knows (and the one you cannot believe exists).
|Many of us go into Baby Self mode when we're at home. I don't think Moms do because we have to HANDLE the various Baby Selves.|
IV. The selves operate at different times (my analogy: like a car, shifting gears depending on where we are, who we are with, etc.). Your child, at school, is his/her Mature Self, but when they arrive at home, they regress into their Baby Self.
A. The mere physical presence of a parent can bring out a kid's Baby Self.
B. The Baby Self can also come out for someone who is nurturing and sees the kid daily (i.e. a grandparent, nanny, close friend, etc.).
C. Two parents with the exact same parenting style may see each of the selves at different times. For example, if Mom is the primary caregiver, she may see the Baby Self, while Dad, who comes home mostly at night, sees the Mature Self. So things the Teen won't do for Mom (because he's in Baby Self mode), he might do for Dad (when the teen is in Mature Self mode).
D. Which self is the better indicator of who the child will grow up to be? The Mature Self.
V. Kids automatically become their Mature Self because that is the next stage of development. As they mature, they stay in Mature Self longer and shift into Baby Mode a little later.
VI. The best way to deal with your child when he/she is in Baby Self mode:
A. Decide Fast What You Want To Do - Be flexible, but when your blood pressure rises (seriously), move onto the next step. If you can't decide what to do, say "I'll think about it and get back to you later." Example is forthcoming in these notes. When setting a limit, the basis of parental authority is that you are their parent and they are stuck with you; that's the fact. Kids hate that, but it's the truth.
B. Stand Firm - Pick and choose your battles, but once you make a decision, you must see your decision through to the end. Don't let the Baby Self bully you into surrendering.
C. Disengage - Do this fast because Baby Self will provoke you; remember - it can't let go, so you must. If you want to deal with an issue brought up during the provocation, do so at a later, neutral time. Disengaging reinforces itself for the parent since the parent is in control. If the kid follows you around, become like a robot: emotionless. If you disengage, you win because you're teaching the child you will not deal with them when they are irrational (as my husband says, "I won't deal with you when you're behaving like a terrorist.)
Example from my own life (which my husband apparently has been doing brilliantly and intuitively):
- He wants Junior to get off the computer, so he decides what he wants, communicates it, and is flexible ("Please get off at 9:15." Junior negotiates, Dad compromises, and they agree on 9:30.)
- At 9:30, Junior is still not off. Dad stands firm while my son argues; he tells the kid if he doesn't get off, he will lose his electronics for one day. Junior, in Baby Mode, starts to emotionally escalate the situation with yelling, screaming, etc. Dad stays firm and closes the laptop.
- Junior is still carrying on, so Dad orders him to his room (disengages) and says they can discuss this further when the boy is calm. After Junior is physically spent from all the arguing, Dad goes in and has a calm discussion with him. Junior is still ticked and has lost his electronics for a day, but the next night, there is NO battle over this issue!
|Disengaging from a battling teen is hard and stressful!|
VII. Adolescence is the coming together of major developmental changes in a very short period of time.
B. Cognitive (they understand more)
C. Sexual (they become sexual beings)
D. A sort of dependency paradox (my phrase, not Dr. Wolf's) where the feelings of love-attachment-dependence that they used to find comforting, no longer fit. They're tired of being dependent and find it no longer acceptable.
VIII. There is a shift in the Parent-Teen relationship.
A. A parent walking into a room - not even speaking - can unconsciously and automatically make a teen feel uncomfortable.
B. For a parent, adolescence can feel like a loss because the kid they once knew before is no longer there. He/she has changed into someone else.
C. Most adolescents develop a "temporary allergy" to their parents in which they feel repelled by them. This is also a universal state which is expressed by:
1. Teenage boys - will retreat to deal with their emotional independence. They do not seek support or open up to anyone. In this Age Of The Internet, however, some may find a girl friend to talk to online which allows them to receive positive support without getting too close.
2. Teenage girls - declare their independence by screaming in the parent's face. This is a much healthier way to deal with the "parental allergy" since they maintain emotional contact with parents and use them for support.
IX. A parent can deal with this shifting relationship.
A. Give hugs, no matter uncomfortable it makes the teen feel (and it will). As much as they shirk it, hugs help repel the nastiness. They may know they're nasty, be unhappy with it, but are unable to change it. Hugs tell them you love them no matter how horrid they're behaving.
B. Be upbeat. When they're grouchy, you remain pleasant. Feel free to pretend to be a benevolent idiot. At this age, they think you are anyway.
C. The unspoken joke
1. From the parent's perspective: I know you can't stand me, but I also understand this is a stage you're going through and it's not personal. I love you no matter what.
2. From the kid's perspective: My parents can rise above my nastiness and love me no matter what.
|We'll survive adolescence, they'll move on...|
X.. There is an unbridgeable gap between parents and teens; their limits are not yours.
A. There is a big disparity between what parents think their kids are capable of and what they, in fact, are capable of. For example, you may find out later than while you thought they didn't have friends over while you were out when they actually did.
B. They will sneak, lie, and bend the truth because they don't always know the boundaries of safety (my words, not the Doctor's).
C. You must be skeptical of what they're telling you because what they're actually doing may be far different than what you think they're doing. My example: your child said he was going to a friend's house, and he did, but what he didn't tell you was that there were girls hanging out over there as well.
XI. Adolescence eventually ends.
A. To see if your kid will be okay, look at yourself. If you have been a good, loving parent who has mostly enforced the rules you set out, odds are that your kid will be fine.
Again, these are purely my notes and my understanding of what Dr. Wolf said. For more information on the doctor and his work, visit:
www.anthonywolf.com - This is Dr. Wolf's official site and if you click on Feature Articles, you can read excepts from some of his books. One point I got from one of his stories: Parental lectures do nothing but make the parent feel better. They do very little to correct the behavior of the teen.
www.parentingteenslonline.com - This is an "information resource for parents and teenagers" and there' a section entitled "Expert Answers: from Dr. Anthony Wolf." I don't believe he's the only expert on this site, but I know he apparently did answer some questions about teens on here at one time. In any case, in tooling around the site, it does seem to be a excellent one that I'll be bookmarking for future reference.
What's working for you in dealing with your adolescent? Please share! And thank you for visiting my blog!